Thursday, April 29, 2010

Flower Friday

(Click on images for larger view.)

UrbanLab's Eco Boulevards named as finalist in $100k 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge

Eco-Boulevards from UrbanLab, part of the Growing Water concept that won UrbanLabs first place in the 2006 City of the Future competition, today was also named one of six finalists for the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge. First prize for City of the Future was $10,000. First prize for the 2010 Bucky is a cool $100,000. The winner will be announced June 2nd at the National Press Club in Washington.

Archeworks Final Semester Review Tonight, Bertrand Goldberg archives on Saturday

In what I'm fairly confident will be the last addition to the April calendar, Archeworks, Chicago's alternative design school, will be holding it's year-end Student Final Presentation and review of current projects, including the design of Pocket Parks for two vacant sites in Little Village, a Native Seed Farm project on two Bridgeport sites, and a Mobile Food Collective, "a family of mobile structures that inspire people to play a more active role in the origin, growth, and preparation of fresh foods, and to create a more participatory food culture." The event is open to the public, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., at Archeworks, 625 N. Kingsbury, at Ontario. RSVP online.

And, thanks to Marina City Online, we bring you news of a lecture Saturday, May 1st, at the Art Institute, where Sarah Whiting, dean of architecture at Rice University will discuss the Ryerson and Burnham libraries archives of architect Bertrand Goldberg. It's from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., in the Morton Auditorium, on the lower level of the Art Institute, 111 S. Michigan. The lecture is free with the basic $18.00 admission.

The AIC's big show on Goldberg has been pushed back to the fall of 2011. For now, in addition to the lecture, there's an excellent new book on Goldberg's masterpiece, Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg's Urban Vision, by Igor Marjanovic and Katerina Rüedi Ray. I hope to be writing more about this outstanding overview soon, but it offers up a wealth of history, photographs, drawings and perspective about Goldberg's visionary mixed-used complex - its architecture, origins, and import.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Read it now!: Building Design + Construction vanishes after Friday.

So much for that whole internet Library of Alexandria thing.

is reporting that Building Design & Construction (BD+C) not only has folded, but all its web content will disappear from the face of earth after this Friday, April 30th. It's part of a Reed Elsevier mass euthanasia of 23 magazines.

Is this the downside of the digital age? At least with print editions you always had a chance of tracking down a copy in some unexpected location. When it's all in the cloud, however, how many copies exist - one, and a couple of backups? And when the owner dies or disinherits it, is all that history then simply annihilated as if it never existed?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Friday at the Graham: Havana's Lost City and Abandoned Dream - Felipe Dulzaide: Utopía Posible

Even with only three day's left, it's still not too late to add an interesting event to the April calendar.

On Friday, April 30th, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., the Graham Foundation will be holding an opening reception for its new exhibition, Felipe Dulzaide: Utopía Posible, which will run through July 17th. There will be a talk by Dulzaides at 5:30 p.m.

"Artist Felipe Dulzaides' installation explores the history of the unfinished National Art Schools in Havana."

The story is that in 1961 Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were playing golf at what was, under the old regime, the Havana County Club, when they hit upon the idea of using the site for a new national arts school. Italian architect Vittorio Garatti would design the School of Ballet and Music, Roberto Gottardi the School of Dramatic Art and Cuban architect Ricardo Porro, those for the Fine Arts and Modern Dance.

After four years of construction, and a shift in ideology, alliance and aesthetics to all things Soviet, the sensuous designs, using locally produced bricks and terra cotta and deploying Catalan vaults to creates and archways, were declared decadent. Although Porro's and Garatti's buildings were essentially complete, the project was halted, and the structures left to rot, to be trashed and looted, for four decades, before a new effort to restore and complete the complex began in 1999. In 2003, it was added to the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The history of this project continues to fascinate. Cuban artist Felip Dulzaides was born in the same year the National Arts School project was shut down, and his installation "addresses different aspects of a compelling story about the unfinished dramatic art school at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana whose architecture captures the Utopian ideals of the Cuban Revolution. "
The centerpiece of Utopía Posible focuses on Roberto Gottardi and his quest to finish the School of Dramatic Arts, a process that has taken more than 40 years and led him to develop four different schemes.

The exhibition also features two new video pieces: Next Time It Rains, about Garatti's School of Ballet, which was 90 percent complete in 1965 but never occupied and left to be overgrown by jungle; and Broken Glass, about Porro's School of Dance, the first building of the complex to be completed during initial construction. The School of Dance was modeled after the shape of a broken piece of glass, a metaphor for an emotional explosion and the sense of fragility that characterized the revolution in its earliest stages. Together, these works contribute another dimension to this unique story of intense creativity, experimental architecture, and politics.
(all images courtesy The Graham Foundation)

Chicago Streetscene: Bad Building Boogie Woogie

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Buildings We've Grown to Love: Harry Weese's River Cottages

From the west, they look a bit forbidding, the cottages architect Harry Weese designed in 1988 along the west bank of the Chicago river, just south of the Kinzie Bridge. A long, monolithic concrete wall gives off an almost bunker-like vibe, until you notice that the windows that occasionally puncture it are a bit eccentric - portholes, triangular sashes, bays that look more like something you'd find on a shack than an upscale townhouse.

When you get to the river, however, you're on a different planet, where the funkiness subverts a tight, organizing geometry to create one of the more engaging structures in the city. (Click on the photographs to see a larger view.)
Weese's nautical idioms came naturally, both from his wartime service in the Navy, and his love of sailing. On her very fine blog, BLUEPRINT: Chicago, Caroline Nye writes that Weese's "inspiration for the cottages came from a trip he took down the Danube River in Hungary thirty years prior to their completion in 1988. There he had seen a collection of unique cottages where people were able to build whatever they wanted with minimal government interference."

And, indeed, Weese's sly take seems to be an homage to what squatters might have put up if they only had the money - and imagination. The six levels of the four townhouses stack atop each other like cabins on a hillside, with a external stair that winds like a corkscrew up to a steep, ladder like series of steps leading to a glass, coffin-shaped door at the back of a terrace. A birdhouse serves as a filial to the tall pole anchoring the stairway.

The sharply-angled roof, expressed in a grid of rectangles and triangles, alternates between solid and glass for the skylights, and solid and voids for the terraces. Jut-angled brackets pop out of the facade. Pipe chimneys punctuate the roofline. This is probably one of the few buildings where satellite dishes seem perfectly at home in the overall design.
The central courtyard seems less willed than improvised. To paraphrase FLW, the cottages look like they were built not on the riverbank, but of it.
I keep thinking that the cottages would be right at home in Sweethaven, the huge set Wolf Kroeger constructed for Robert Altman's 1980 film Popeye, which remains a major tourist attraction on the island of Malta down to this very day.
The cottages, similarly, are a one-of-a-kind, unsanitized delight, an anti-Miesian romp that rejects uniform repetition for a playful mosaic that, like a master juggler, keeps a boatload of variations in the air all at the same time. Yesterday, even this goose seemed to find serenity in contemplating Weese's cottages from his perch in the river.

Sunday Reading: Weiwei on Twitter; Schama on Rothko in Russia

“In Chinese [in 140 characters] you can seduce a girl or write a constitution. You can write a short novel or tell a beautiful story." So says Chinese artist, architect and activist Ai Weiwei about his love of Twitter in an extensive interview with David Pilling in this weekend's Financial Times. Weiwei talks about his clash with Chinese authorities, his work on Bird's Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing, and what his father learned from cleaning toilets during the Cultural Revolution.

Also in the FT's weekend edition is another excellent article by Simon Schama on the return of the work of painter Mark Rothko, who claimed that the scar on his nose came from a cossack whip, to larger Russia via a major new retrospective at Moscow's Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture.

Friday, April 23, 2010

John Cage, Water Walk, on I've Got a Secret, 1960

Via the New Republic's David Hajdu, here's John Cage with Gary Moore on I've Got a Secret, circa 1960, performing Water Walk, minus the sound of five radios due a union jurisdictional dispute.. Hajdu's take on the program, cultural attitudes, and Cage, himself, is worth reading, but what's perhaps most nostalgic is that this a full 9 minute, 23 second segment without commercial .interruptions.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

John Ronan talks about his new design for the Poetry Foundation

"It may be easier," said architect John Ronan, when asked about the affinities between architecture and poetry, "to talk about what we didn't do, which is to read a poem and design a building."

He was speaking at a Wednesday lunchtime event at the Arts Club at which the Poetry Foundation was celebrating the groundbreaking for its first real home of its own, made possible by a $100,000,000 gift from the late heiress Ruth Lilly, which will soon liberate the organization from nearly a century of often hand-to-mouth existence in small rented rooms and cramped basements.
Construction is set to begin soon on the new $9,700,000, 26,000 square-foot-building at the southwest corner of Dearborn and Superior. Ronan's design creates an angle of repose in the midst of busy River North with a large garden inside a visually permeable screen wall made of a black zinc that turns solid over the other parts of the building.
I expect to be writing a lot more about this building, and about Studio/Gang's new Media Center for Columbia College, but for today, we'll let Ronan do the talking:
. . . there are aspects of the building that are very much like a poem, and try to be like a poem. It's not a building that's a one-liner. It's not something you see right away. You might have to go back to it two or three times. You might have to see it at different times of day or year to really get an understanding of it, just as you might come back to a poem time and time again and get something different out of it each time that you read it

. . . Poets don't invent words. They just arrange words in a way to uncover new meaning or make us think about something that was hiding in plain sight, that we didn't see. And that's what I try to do. I'm not inventing new materials. I'm notExplorations: The Architecture of John Ronan, published by Princeton Architectural Press inventing forms. Just putting them together in such a way that you may have to rethink things and draw your attention to them in unexpected ways.
The two videos below capture Ronan's presentation on his design. I apologize for the visual quality, but you should be able to still get a decent view of the illustrations. The most comprehensive source for a selection of many of the same graphics used in the Arts Club presentation, in much better quality, can be found in the newly published Explorations: The Architecture of John Ronan, from Princeton Architectural Press, which provides a rich overview of the work of one of Chicago's best architects. You can also find slideshows of images on the websites of both the Poetry Foundation, and of John Ronan Architects.

(Click on the videos to view them in a larger size.)

Part One:

Part Two:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cobbgate Scandal: U of C Biological Laboratories reluctantly puts failed experiments on permanent display

Some of the residents of the gate for the Hull Biological Laboratories, which Henry Ives Cobb donated to the University of Chicago shortly before he was dumped as campus architect. (click on the photos for a larger view)
The specimen depicted in the top photograph above shows the results of early attempts to use seaweed protoplasm to secure dental implants.

The middle photograph is a memento of a three-year program, initiated by students, to fully diagram molecular transmutations and the potential for replication arising out of French kissing, abruptly terminated by the administration after it was discovered that the instructor was not, as claimed, Dr. François P. McCarthy of the Sorbonne, but Fifi Dessay of the Trocadero Theater on south State Street.

The bottom photograph is a specimen from still another experiment studying the breakdown of complex organisms into prokaryotes through the cryogenic freezing of faculty members at the exact moment they learned they had been denied tenure.

And as for Henry Ives Cobb? In total dejection after his firing, the architect grew violent, and was discovered by police using a large kitchen knife to chop neighborhood chickens into little pieces. As his anger grew, his list of his victims expanded: pork bellies, tomatoes, eggs, avocado - several types of lettuce - until he inadvertently created the salad that would secure him a greater, more enduring fame than he would ever enjoy as an architect.

Should This Building be Saved?

Although the qualifications of an individual building may be fiercely debated, the the most classic definition of a landmark is clear: a structure of national or international significance in terms of unique quality of design of historical import.

There is, of course, a second level of landmark, far more abject, but a kind of landmark that still forms the bedrock of continuity, not by being a masterpiece, but by carrying into the present that sense of history without which a city, town or neighborhood becomes nothing more than an accident of geography.Logan Square activist Mark Heller is making a case for this building, an administrative structure from the 1920 or 30's that was retrofitted to serve as a mini-fieldhouse for Haas Park, on Fullerton, just east of California.

It's about to be replaced by a new, much-needed, expanded 10,000 square-foot facility, pictured below, designed by the firm of Johnson & Lee. According to the city's Public Building Commission it will "include a gymnasium, club rooms, and administrative support offices. Building construction will consist of pre-cast concrete wall panels and curtain wall systems. New landscaped areas will flank three sides of the building to provide a buffer zone from the surrounding vehicle traffic noises as well as site drainage support." The construction is part of an overall $10,000,000 project to expand and upgrade the park, which is in a part of the city that finishes next-to-last in park acreage per capita.

For two years, Heller has been urging the Chicago Park District to look at re-use options, to little result. "It's just way easier," he says, "to demolish a classic small neighborhood park brick building than to 'think outside the box' and explore preservation." He's proposing moving the current building - at a cost he estimates at $250-300,000 - to a new location where it could be adaptively reused, such as Humboldt Park, or the new Bloomingdale Trail.

This Saturday, April 24th, between 1 and 3:00 p.m., there will be a "farewell" party for the 80-year-old structure, with food, refreshments, music, and an absence of sentimentality.

The Haas park building is rated "orange" on the Chicago Landmarks Commission Historic Resources Survey of potentially landmarkable buildings, but the listing cites no architect, construction date, or style.

In a large urban center, it seems always to be about building bigger. Is there still room for modest structures of humble character, who did their jobs well, and with grace?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Visionary or Fraud? David Fisher lectures at IIT Monday

Just added to the April calendar of Chicago architectural events:

Community Interface Committee, Wednesday, Visiting Schools. April 21, 6:00 p.m., AIA Chicago. Jennifer Masengarb, education specialist from the Chicago Architecture Foundation, will discuss her pathbreaking publications, Schoolyards to Skylines: Teaching with Chicago’s Amazing Architecture and The Architecture Handbook: A Student Guide to Understanding Buildings

David Fisher: The Creator of Dynamic Architecture, Monday, April 19th, 12:30 p.m. at Crown Hall, IIT: In June 2008, at New York's Plaza Hotel, a man identified as Dr. David Fisher, "futurist architect" unveiled plans for a spectacular $700 million, 80-story, wind-powered, pre-fab Dubai skyscraper in which each floor would physically rotate a full 360 degrees. And he was going to put up another one in Moscow. The idea was so striking it was listed 16th on Time Magazine's Best Inventions of 2008. In November of that year, the "Renowned Italian architect" was named global Architect of the Year by the Developer & Builders Alliance.

Like Jay Gatsby, however, things soon revealed themselves to be not quite as they first appeared. Fisher's bio claimed he had received his honorary doctorate from the "The Prodeo Institute at Columbia University in York." When WCBS reported no such institution exists, and Columbia denied ever awarding Fisher a degree, Fisher's publicists responded that he actually had been awarded the degree by "the Catholic University of Rome" at a 1994 ceremony at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which, while opening its doors to all faiths, is actually the center of the Episcopal Church in New York. The reference was soon removed.

Fisher's bio on his own Dynamic Architecture website proclaims:
He cannot be considered an architect in the traditional sense. Dr. Fisher has a 360 degree experience in the world of construction – from project development to construction management, from teaching to designing.
There is no record of Mr. Fisher building anything, but he is apparently the owner of the Leonardo da Vinci Smart Bathroom Company, and has extensive work experience in innovative bathroom design. In an interview with The National, he admitted to never having heard of Buckminster Fuller. The Developers and Builders Alliance (or "DBA", which is a completely appropriate acronym on more than one level) is reported to be the former Florida Builders Association. It's heavy on "Honorary Members" such as Donald Trump and Evangeline Gouletas. Its on-line brochure lists the Advantages of membership as including the "robust backing" of Visual Media Productions Group and AC Graphics of Hialeah, "the first triple-certified Green printer in Florida."

Master promoter? Definitely. Master architect? Form your own judgement on Monday when Fisher lectures at Crown Hall.

Also on Monday:

Jesse Reiser + Nanako Umemoto, 6:00 p.m. Gallery 1100, Art & Architecture Building, 845 W. Harrison, University of Illinois at Chicago. Lecture by Jesse Reiser + Nanako Umemoto, Principals, Reiser + Umemoto, New York, which, in collaboration with ARUP, has just won the Taipei Pop Music Center Competition.
There are over a dozen and a half great events on the calendar just this week, including the SEAOI Bridge Symposium, the Society of Architectural Historians national conference, David Swan on Irving K. Pond's autobiography. and more. Check them all out here.

Chicago Streetscene: Push for Customer Assistant

(Click on image for larger view.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chicago Streetscenes: Frosted Arbor; Golden Tower

via our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson(click on images for larger view)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Herbert Dreiseitl lecture: Urban Waterscapes - IIT tonight

Another last minute addition to the April calendar.

Tonight at 7:00 p.m., in Siegel Hall Auditorium at IIT, 3301 S. Dearborn, there will be a lecture by landscape architect and water hydrologist Herbert Dreisteitl of Atelier Dreiseitl, whose work includes the green roof atop Chicago's City Hall, and an installation for the Neu-Ulm train station, pictured to the right. You can read an interview with Dreisteitl here.

Also tonight, at 6:00 p.m., Brett Steele will lecture at UIC, and at CAF's lunchtime lecture at 12:15, Joe Dolinar, Partner, Goettsch Partners; Lou Rosetti, Senior Project Manager, Walsh Construction, and Jim D’Amico, Vice President, The John Buck Company, will discuss the vertical expansion of 300 East Randolph.

Check all the great events still to come on the April calendar here.

Forget that wuss Rudolph: Chicago Santa guarded by Griffins

Winter can be tough for the rest of us, but spring and summer are the rough seasons for Santa and his reindeer, exposed by the lack of snow and darkness. But at the deliriously appointed house at Washtenaw and Logan Boulevard, Santa's position is secured by two, cat-like griffin sentries, part of an incredibly eclectic array of embellishments on what is one of our favorite houses. Read our original story on it, complete with pictures, here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

St. Boniface: Saved?

On Tuesday, the Chicago Community Development Commission will agree to sublease the former Byrd School at Orleans and Hill Street, near St. Joseph Church, to the Archdiocese of Chicago, the first step in a deal where the second part, to close later, would see the city purchase St. Boniface Church in the East Village neighborhood, designed by architect Henry J. Schlacks in 1902, and hand it over to a developer.

Since the church was closed in 1989, preservationists and neighborhood activists have been battled the Archdiocese's plans to demolished the structure, as it did the adjoining school. In 2003, the Archdiocese mounted a competition for proposals for the church's reuse, including reuse of the original interiors, that resulted in entries from such top-notch firms as Studio/Gang, Booth Hansen, and A. Epstein, with the winning proposal, from Brininstool & Lynch, floating a glass-enclosed day care center in the church's sanctuary.

Nothing came of any of these ideas, and today the plan is from IPM Amicus, which would demolish everything but the Chestnut Street facade and the larger portion of that on Noble , and insert a new 75 bed Retirement Community building, designed by Vasilko Architects and Associates, behind them.

Here's what the original building looks like, from a photo on the website of the St. Boniface activists. And here's my photo of the church's current east facade. Here's the elevations from the IPM Amicus website, to the east, a fairly straightforward building, with tall, arched windows on the first floor, topped by another five stories, above which the two western bell towers remainly clearly visible. The western elevation: According to IPM-Amicus spokesman Ken McHugh, "based on comments from the community we have made the changes that we believe improve the look."

The design has now become much busier, with, on the east side, setbacks on the third and top floors marked by chicken-bone-like buttresses, and two floors added, pretty much obliterating the view to the western bell towers. What was once a flat roof on the western side is now marked by a succession of attics.